WASHINGTON - A battle over who is in charge of a government office erupted in Washington Monday, involving dueling emails, lawsuits, and free doughnuts.
White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney and Obama administration holdover Leandra English both say they are acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency — and both showed up for work Monday morning to take over the same job.
English, the bureau’s deputy director, welcomed back employees to the office after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Mulvaney promptly emailed workers telling them to ignore English’s emails, turn them over to the agency’s legal office, and come by his office to have a doughnut.
English is suing Mulvaney, arguing the law says the job is hers.
The White House says the law is “extremely clear” and is on Mulvaney’s side. He is already acting as if he is in charge — imposing a 30-day freeze on hiring and imposing new rules.
Mulvaney is a former small business owner and congressman who once called the agency a “sick, sad” joke that should be abolished.
“This agency will stay open. Rumors that I’m going to set the place on fire or blow it up or lock the doors are completely false,” he told reporters. “I am a member of the executive branch of government. We intend to execute the laws of the United States.”
English did not meet with reporters, but she did meet with top Democrats who are strong advocates of the agency's mission — Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
The battle over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — a new, relatively obscure but important federal agency — boiled over last week.
Former director Richard Cordray — a nemesis for conservative Republicans and business interests in Washington — abruptly resigned and named English — his chief of staff — as deputy director, meaning she would be his successor.
President Donald Trump countered by appointing Mulvaney, who despises government regulations on business as much as Cordray believes they are essential.
English argues the law that created the agency in 2011 clearly spells out that she should be acting director. Her lawsuit against Mulvaney asks the court to deny the Trump administration’s claim that another law gives the president the power to name an acting director.
The White House and bureau lawyers say there are precedents showing that Trump is authorized to fill temporary vacancies in federal agencies even when another law of succession may be on the books.
The president must name a permanent bureau chief who would also have to be confirmed by the Senate, which could be a problem for Mulvaney. The Senate confirmed him in February as White House budget chief by just two votes.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was founded after the global financial crisis of 2008. Its job is to protect consumers against predatory lending and and other questionable practices by banks, credit card companies, lenders, and debt collectors.
Republicans, including Mulvaney have said the agency has too much power and loads down banks with too much bureaucracy.
White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said Monday the agency has always been about pushing a political agenda and ambitions instead of protecting consumers.